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Slovakia's diplomats

Another 10 Slovak ambassadors have been appointed to key foreign posts in the last four weeks, giving fresh impetus to opposition critics who said that the country's diplomatic corps has become a retirement home for servants of the government. For its part, the Foreign Ministry decried the criticism as baseless and politically motivated.
Since Premier Vladimír Mečiar inherited the mantle of outgoing President Michal Kováč on March 3, 1998, along with several key presidential powers, he has recalled 28 Slovak ambassadors and appointed 16 people to take their places (see chart, below). Many of the new appointees have no diplomatic experience, and few of them are well-known even in Slovakia.


Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplová (right) and Premier Vladimír Mečiar have been busy.
Alan Hyža

Another 10 Slovak ambassadors have been appointed to key foreign posts in the last four weeks, giving fresh impetus to opposition critics who said that the country's diplomatic corps has become a retirement home for servants of the government. For its part, the Foreign Ministry decried the criticism as baseless and politically motivated.

Since Premier Vladimír Mečiar inherited the mantle of outgoing President Michal Kováč on March 3, 1998, along with several key presidential powers, he has recalled 28 Slovak ambassadors and appointed 16 people to take their places (see chart, below). Many of the new appointees have no diplomatic experience, and few of them are well-known even in Slovakia.

Ivan Stanislav, appointed on September 9 as Ambassador to Croatia, is among those who has no diplomatic experience. For 27 of his 59 years, he has worked in journalism and the music industry.

"I've been working for 25 years with Croatia on an international [cultural] level," Stanislav said, "so I see no reason why I shouldn't get the job."

"The HZDS [Mečiar's ruling party] secured these posts for people who have served the party very well," said former Slovak foreign minister Eduard Kukan. Now a deputy with Slovakia's largest opposition party, the SDK, Kukan said that Mečiar's "non-standard" appointments to diplomatic posts had hurt the country's reputation.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokár, himself recently nominated Ambassador to Slovenia, disagreed with Kukan's assessment. The Slovak government had every right to decide who should represent the country abroad, Tokár argued. "The Foreign Ministry does not have the right to question the government's decisions. Otherwise, we would run into chaos and anarchy."

The latest flap

The latest round of criticism came to a head on August 27 at an SDK press conference, where Kukan alleged that Jozef Šesták had been proposed as a candidate for the post of Slovak Ambassador to Austria. Šesták is currently the state secretary of the Slovak Foreign Ministry and a member of Mečiar's HZDS party. "Mr. Šesták worked in such a way during the last four years that it would be a crime for a new cabinet to leave him in the post of Ambassador," scoffed Kukan.

Šesták reacted the very next day, saying that Kukan, who had represented Slovakia at the United Nations in New York, should have minded his tongue. "It is a base, groundless and arrant slur - an incorrect and incompetent accusation," Šesták said, calling on Kukan to apologise publicly and threatening a law suit. When Kukan failed to retract his words, the lawsuit was duly launched.

While Šestak's name does not even appear on the Foreign Ministry's list of nominees, those who have been tapped for diplomatic posts have also been criticised. Ľubica Ďurčová, nominated on August 17 as a head of the Slovak permanent mission to the UN in Vienna, drew fire for her inexperience and low profile.

Pavol Hamžík, another former foreign minister who is currently vice-chairman of the newly formed SOP party, said of Ďurčová that " in other countries, these posts to multinational organizations are given only to professional diplomats with lots of diplomatic experience, not by someone who doesn't even speak the required language at the appropriate level."

Ďurčová is an economist who has worked for the ruling HZDS party and the Government Office, and who for the last year has been office director of the Foreign Ministry. "This kind of person cannot be considered an international partner," continued Hamžík. "She isn't able to protect Slovakia's interests, but on the contrary, she can damage them, because she isn't qualified to do the job."

Ďurčová secretary said her boss had refused to comment on Hamžík's allegations, since "she hasn't heard anything like that from Mr. Hamžík."

Opposition critics said that the recent appointments would hurt Slovakia's credibility, because they were bound to be recalled if the opposition won the national elections set for September 25 and 26. In addition, they said, the new ambassadors could not be taken seriously by the foreign community because they owed too much to their HZDS patrons. "These political nominees are not able to put the interests of the state over those of politics," said Hamžík.

Kukan cited the example of former vice-premier Oľga Keltošová, now Slovakia's Ambassador to the UN in New York (the same post Kukan occupied in 1993-94). Keltošová herself said of her March 24 appointment that "it was the HZDS that sent me there."

Kukan said that Keltošová has been back in Slovakia for two months to support the HZDS election campaign, instead of lobbying the UN to accept Slovakia as a non-permanent member of the Security Council. "This is nothing but an abuse of the post of ambassador and it's not the way ambassadors should carry out their duties," said Kukan.

But Tokár said that Kukan's statement was unprofessional. "This is not what experienced diplomats and well behaved people say," he replied.

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